Wales 18 Italy 18: Pez inaccuracy spares Wales from complete humiliation at home

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The Independent Online

Scott Johnson, the Wales caretaker coach, declared yesterday that drawing with Italy "is like kissing your mother-in-law - you have to do it but you don't get a lot out of it". No, the analogy did not make much sense. But then, nothing about this weekend in Cardiff did.

The bloodshot eyes of the Italian squad the morning after the fright before certainly didn't. They would have, mind you, if they had been born of a night commiserating "the historic win that got away" rather than celebrating "the historic point they gained away".

In future years, as the Azzurri wait for their first Six Nations victory on the road, they might begin to view this as an opportunity missed. For no matter how rapidly they progress and how quickly Wales regress, it is doubtful that they will ever find the redshirts in such disarray. Ruddockless and rudderless - anarchy off the pitch has glaringly led to anarchy on it.

As ever, though, at their base camp yesterday the ever-slick Welsh spin machine was desperate to apply to this latest disaster a whitewash as thorough as the snow that covered the surrounding hills. The players were instructed to stress how gallantly Italy had performed and not to dwell on their own ineptitude. Shane Williams even went as far to say: "This is the best Italy have played this year."

The little winger was not even close. Pierre Berbizier's side were in fact better against England, Ireland and, for a good hour, against France. And if Ramiro Pez, their outside-half, had played, and more importantly kicked, like he had in the opening three games then Wales would have got exactly what their baffling capitulation deserved. At least there was one Welshman willing to say it how it really was.

"Changes for France next week are inevitable, I suppose," said Martyn Williams, the Lions flanker whose own loss of form neatly sums up Wales' metamorphosis from Grand Slammers into potential wooden-spooners. "We haven't really helped ourselves much. We should have been home and dry by half-time. Perhaps we were afraid too much of losing in the second half. Our confidence has taken a huge dent in the last month or so. The boys have taken a lot of flak from a lot of places."

On Saturday they took it from the majority of the Millennium Stadium crowd, who broke years of proud tradition by booing their heroes off. The only surprise was that they had any breath left after all the sighs that were exhaled during a quite bizarre encounter.

The most solemn came when Dwayne Peel was helped off with a jarred shoulder that looks likely to end his season, while the most aghast came when Joel Jutge blew for half-time. If ever a scoreboard did not begin to reflect what had just occurred under it then this was it. To use David Lloyd's phrase, "Wales flipping murdered 'em", yet the neon flashed "15-15".

"We could have and should have been 20 points to the good," bemoaned Martyn Williams, and he was not exaggerating. The openside himself was guilty of perhaps the afternoon's biggest cock-up when knocking on with the try-line a reach of the arm away - although Matthew Watkins and the video referee were also prime contenders. The first threw a daft pass for Pablo Canavosio to intercept and scamper 70 yards on the brink of the break, while the latter awarded Ezio Galon a try despite admitting the replays were unclear whether the full-back had grounded the ball in time. Galon had not; Eric Darriere obviously thought he should have.

At that early juncture, the 16th minute, Italy had already been stretched to near breaking point. Wales carried on stretching too, but, as balls were dropped and moves over-elaborated, all they had to show for it were tries from Mark Jones and Stephen Jones.

Then Watkins gifted Canavosio his try and the match swung remarkably. The Welsh pack lost its shape, the visitors commanded possession and had Pez been successful with more than one of three penalties then Stephen Jones' late effort would not have salvaged the draw.

"At last we have gained the respect of our rivals," said Berbizier. Respect from their own people would be enough for Wales right now.

Wales: L Byrne (Llanelli Scarlets); M Jones (Scarlets), H Luscombe (Newport-Gwent Dragons), M Watkins (Scarlets), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), D Peel (Scarlets); D Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Dragons), R Sidoli (Blues), C Charvis (Newcastle), M Owen (Dragons, capt), M Williams (Blues). Replacements: M Phillips (Blues) for Peel, 9; A Popham (Scarlets) for Charvis, 52; G Jenkins (Blues) for D Jones, 58; M Davies (Gloucester) for Thomas, 76; J Thomas (Ospreys) for Sidoli, 80.

Italy: E Galon (Overmach Parma); P Canavosio (Calvisano), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mi Bergamasco (Stade Français), L Nitoglia (Calvisano); R Pez (Perpignan), P Griffen (Calvisano); S Perugini (Calvisano), C Festuccia (Gran Parma), C Nieto (Viadana), S Dellape (Agen), M Bortolami (Narbonne, capt), S Parisse (Stade Français), J Sole (Viadana), M Zaffiri (Calvisano). Replacements: M Castrogiovanni (Calvisano) for Nieto, 29; C Stoica (Montpellier) for Canavosio, 47; C Del Fava (Bourgoin) for Dellape, 50; F Ongaro (Treviso) for Festuccia, 71; A Zanni (Calvisano) for Parisse, 78; A Lo Cicero (L'Aquila) for Zaffiri, 80.

Referee: J Jutge (France).

Millennium Stadium statistics

* TOP CARRIERS

Mirco Bergamasco 6

Mike Phillips 5

Shane Williams 5

Gonzalo Canale 4

Hal Luscombe 4

* TOP TACKLERS

Maurizio Zaffiri 10

Mirco Bergamasco 9

Matthew Watkins 9

Martin Castrogiovanni 8

Carlo Festuccia 8

* MOST MISSED TACKLES

Paul Griffen 3

Ramiro Pez 3

Marco Bortolami 2

Matthew Watkins 2

Gonzalo Canale 1

* MOST OFFLOADS IN TACKLE

Stephen Jones 3

Marco Bortolami 2

Gonzalo Canale 2

Colin Charvis 2

Shane Williams 2

* MOST HANDLING ERRORS

Mike Phillips 8

Lee Byrne 4

Paul Griffen 4

Hal Luscombe 3

Martyn Williams 3

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